The Big Lebowski (1998)
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
Review by Noel Wood
Note: Originally, this piece was written and posted to this site in February of 2003. However, I have recently made some changes to the article, including adding some paragraphs that weren’t here initially. This rehash is here to commemorate that tonight, at midnight, I will be sitting in the Plaza theater with several friends and a whole crowd of onlookers to watch this fine film in the theater for the first time in five and a half years. This kicks off a weekend that should be a goldmine for material here at MCFTR, including the annual Dragon*Con fantasy convention and Drive In-Vasion at the Starlight Drive-In. So if you’ve already read this article, here it is again with some new stuff to enhance it. If you haven’t read it, it’s new to you.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI. It’s a film that many have seen, and that many love. It’s something that I’ve seen at least a dozen times and have never grown tired of. It’s not a flawless film, and by no means is it the greatest film in the world. Hell, it’s not even the best film that the brothers Coen have produced. But it’s one of those instant classics that seems to have universal appeal.
Normally I reserve these spots for actual reviews of films, but today I’ve decided to do something a bit different. There’ll be no critical analysis here, other than me talking about how much certain stuff “rules” every now and again. Instead, I’m just going to go through the film and mention some of the things that make it just so cool. What, you got problems with that? What were you really expecting when you clicked on a link that said Movie Criticism for the Retarded anyway?
So here’s my tribute to the ten coolest things about this movie, in no specific order. You may notice that “The Dude” does not show up on this list, because he is far above being simply an element of the movie. The Dude is all-encompassing. Enjoy.
John Goodman is a bit of a staple in Coen Brothers films, appearing in RAISING ARIZONA, BARTON FINK, and O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?. And of course, he’s generally the most intense character in the films he’s in. The gun-toting pseudo-intellectual converted Jew Vietnam Vet Walter has gotta be the best thing he’s ever done, though. He’s short-tempered and has some of the best lines in the movie. The scene where he obliterates the Corvette with a crowbar because he thinks it belongs to the kid who stole Dude’s car while yelling “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!” is funny and scary at the same time. His constant berating of Steve Buscemi’s Donny is a great running gag. The scene where he pulls the gun in the bowling alley over Smokey’s moment “OVER THE LINE” is quite memorable. And of course, there’s his trademark line:
“Fuck it Dude, Let’s go bowling.”
Walter rules it.
There have been other films about Bowling in the past. Some memorable ones include the Farrelly Brother’s 1996 gross-out fest KINGPIN and, uh, well, KINGPIN. Yeah, that’s about it. There was a song about bowling in GREASE 2, but I won’t count that. Of course, there’s the cult favorite SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA, starring Leanna Quigley, but that just doesn’t have the same bite to it. The fact that Bowling s not only part of THE BIG LEBOWSKI but is actually an integral storyline element is absolutely brilliant. A good portion of the exposition takes place within the bowling alley where Dude, Donny, and Walter are on their way to the semis. And the funny part is that we never get to see the Dude bowl. Ever.
Interesting trivia for you: The Dude drinks a total of eight of his favorite adult beverage during the course of the film. The Dude’s trademark drink can be prepared in several slightly different ways, but the most commonly accepted version is this recipe:
1 fl oz vodka
1/2 fl oz Kahlua
2 fl oz cream
The White Russian, or Caucasian, as it is referred to in the film, is a tasty yet potent alcoholic beverage that is also a favorite of this author. The best thing about this element of the film is that no matter where the Dude is, no matter how shabbily dressed and unkempt he is, he always requests his favorite drink. And fortunately for him, there’s always ingredients available, even if he has to use powdered non-dairy creamer to complete the effect.
Three German antagonists that help make the Dude’s life a living hell, the Nihilists are portrayed by FARGO’s Peter Stormare, The Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ Flea, and some tall actor that’s really German. Their presence in the movie is overall played as comedy. Sure, they’re the masterminds behind the whole kidnapping/ransom subplot, but they’re really a bunch of bumbling idiots. It doesn’t take much for Dude and Walter to handle them in their final battle in the bowling alley parking lot. They assault Dude in his bathtub with a marmot (aka a Ferret or as Walter puts it “an amphibious rodent”) and threated to cut off his Johnson. Of course, they’re falsely referred to as “Nazis” by Walter, and that just ain’t fair. Oh yeah, these guys also have masqueraded as porn stars and German technopop (think Kraftwerk) musicians.
One of the best character actors in movies today, Phillip Seymour Hoffman appears in LEBOWSKI as the millionaire Jeff Lebowski’s assistant Brandt. This role has a few funny lines and some overall funny scenes, but it wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without the presence of Hoffman, who has proven his mettle in stuff like BOOGIE NIGHTS, ALMOST FAMOUS, STATE AND MAIN, and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. His comedic timing and expressive nature bring Brandt to life and makes the character far more interesting than I’m sure the Coens ever expected him to be.
The Dude listens to Creedence Clearwater Revival. Apparently, that’s about all he listens to. When his car is stolen, he makes sure to mention that the vehicle contained “some Creedence tapes”, which the officer filing the police report seems quite reluctant to let the Dude know are probably unrecoverable. There’s some good Creedence tunes in the movie, including memorable use of “Run through the Jungle” and “Looking out my Backdoor”.
And while we’re on the subject, the music in general kicks ass. There’s some damn fine use of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” and Santana’s “Oye Como Va”. There’s the brilliant soundtrack to the introduction of The Jesus in which the Gipsy Kings’ flamenco-tinged cover of “Hotel California” is played. Even the Eagles themselves have a song on the soundtrack, which the Dude shares my feelings in hating.
This is the title of the porn film that Bunny Lebowski appeared in with Karl Hungus (the porn name of Stormare’s character) and Asia Carrera. I just like the name “Logjammin’”. In fact, every time I’m playing a game of Roller Coaster Tycoon and I build a log flume ride, I name it “Logjammin’”. Really, that’s it. I just like saying “Logjammin’”. Try it for yourself.
Oh yeah, and I read some trivia that there is an actual porn film with Carrera called LOGJAMMIN’ out there, but I’ve not found solid proof of that.
John Turturro has made a career of playing interesting secondary characters in recent years. Sure, he’s a great actor and truly delivers when he’s called upon to play a leading role (think BARTON FINK), but some of his best roles are smaller ones. Spike Lee and The Coens have known this for years. The Jesus may be his most audacious performance to date. Jesus is a rival bowler who seems to have a bit of a shady background: he’s a “Pederast” who was once forced to go door to door admitting he was a sex offender. He’s skinny, greasy-haired, and wears one-piece bodysuits. He’s only in a couple of scenes, but they’re some of the funniest goddamn things you’ll ever witness.
There are tons of Italian character actors in Hollywood. In fact, there’s so many that it’s hard to tell them apart. One of my favorite, however, is a little bald man by the name of Jon Polito. A staple in the Coens’ films, Polito is one of those guys that most people recognize the face of but just can’t pin a name to. Polito has appeared in over 70 films, which works out to an average of about four per year, and that’s on top of the dozens of television shows he’s appeared on. In LEBOWSKI, Polito plays Da Fino, a private snoop who trails The Dude around in his little powder blue VW Beetle in a case of mistaken identity. His encounter with The Dude is one of the film’s funniest moments.
The Stranger is the thing that ties this whole thing together, my friend. While the Dude is all-encompassing, the Stranger is what really makes this story work. Narrating the story of the Dude as if it were an American folk tale. At first, the Stranger, played to perfection by Sam Elliot, is never seen, only lending his voice to the tale of the Dude. Halfway through the film, though, The Stranger appears next to the Dude at the bowling alley bar and dispenses his wisdom. Is he real, or a figment of the Dude’s imagination? For that matter, is the Dude real? The whole angle lends an element of fantasy to the film that truly takes it from being a good comedy to a great movie.
Add all these components together and what you’ve got is a masterpiece of modern cinema. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve got no excuses. Go rent it today. I’ll let you borrow my VHS copy so long as you promise to give it back unharmed. Hell, I need a copy on DVD anyway. Whatever. Maybe you can even push to get your local arthouse theater to carry a limited run of it again, as some fine folks have done here in Atlanta recently. But it’s certainly a must-see in whatever fashion you can get it.
The Dude abides.
The Dude abides.
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